On The Town For Under $100

Date Night Lately I’ve been thinking about “date nights.” No, not the creepy, contrived, sentimental, hearts and flowers kind but the nights when the two of you get out and do something interesting together. I started thinking about it when my son-in-law, Jon, told me his babysitter charges $13 an hour. At that rate, even movie night for two is close to a $100 proposition. I don’t need a babysitter but Jon and Heidi do. $13 an hour forces them to be creative in order to make it happen.

Our kids are all doing well, but they have to balance a lot of needs when they think about going out. They want to try new restaurants, see plays, catch a Sounders’ game, or go to a movie. As much as anything it’s about keeping things fresh and having some fun together. Marilynn and I like to hang out with the kids, but we have our own lives and we’re not always available. So how can they make it work? Whether there’s a babysitter in the equation or not going out has gotten to be expensive.

Because I think it’s important to stay engaged I’ve started thinking about how to minimize the cost of going out without diminishing the experience. Not every event is a bargain, but there are ways to keep the costs down. Here are a couple of ways to think about getting out for under $100:

PalominoSeattle has a thriving restaurant scene and keeping seats full and turning the tables is a concern for them, especially on slower nights. Happy Hour can help lower the cost but add food to the experience. Most of the good bars and restaurants feature happy hour on their slower nights – Monday through Thursday and Sunday. The hours vary but 4:30 – 6 or 6:30 is normal. I might enjoy a full dinner on a special occasion, but for the most part a drink and a couple of “small plates” is more than enough for a pre-event nosh. Even on weekend nights a drink and something from the bar menu is affordable. It’s a great way to start date night.

Then, as part of the planning process, I check out the Weekend Section of the Seattle Times every Friday to see what’s playing on the local scene – film, theater, and music. With close to 20 theater and dance companies in town, there are usually several quality choices as well as some intriguing, mystery ones. Unless they have a blockbuster success on their hands the local playhouses don’t normally sell out during the week, and most of them offer a discount at the box office on the day of the performance. Some, like Intiman and Seattle Rep, also have a standby rate though you might not know if there are seats or if you’ll be able to sit together until minutes before the performance.

ACT TheaterFor example, ACT Theater offers the following: On the day of the performance, if there are unsold seats ACT lets the customer decide how much to pay. Last night we paid half price ($20/per) to see the well-reviewed play Rapture, Blister, Burn. When the action started the theater was almost full but we had great seats in the small circle-in-the-round amphitheater. The play was fun, the acting professional, and the audience appreciative – a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Here’s how the entire evening broke down for us financially:
1. Parking at the US Bank garage (1415 Fifth Ave, entrance on Union) – $8 after 5pm
2. Drinks and apps at Sullivan’s: (martini and 2 glasses of Pinot Grigio) plus 2 small plates (skillet chips with blue cheese and tavern steak with spinach and mushrooms) – $50
3. 2 tickets to see Rapture, Blister, Burn – $40
Total for the evening: $98

For Jon and Heidi to keep it below $100 it has to look like this:
1. Babysitter – 5 hours – $65
2. Parking at US Bank garage – free if validated by Palomino Restaurant (upstairs)
3. Pizza and 2 beers at Palomino – $15 plus tip (Happy Hour every day, all hours
4. Theater tickets – $20 (pay what you can/standby at ACT)
Total for the evening: $100

Note: parking at the US Bank garage is free if the ticket is validated at the Palomino Restaurant. Happy Hour never ends in the Palomino bar, and the expansive bar menu includes brick oven pizzas and delicious salads. If we had gone the Palomino route we would have saved about $15 and brought the cost of our evening down to $83.

Other suggestions:

The Crest: The Landmark Theater chain’s bargain movie house. It’s the last stop for all the first run films in Seattle and it’s only $3 to see them before they go to DVD land. I’d much rather watch a film in a theater than on DVD and it’s our good fortune that the Crest is near us in North City.

Zoo Tunes: On the lawn at the Woodland Park Zoo. It’s a great early evening summer venue. Picnic on the grass. $25-40 a ticket. Good entertainers – John Hiatt, Randy Newman, Lee Ann Rimes, Indigo Girls, Todd Snider, Brandy Carlisle – this summer.

Museums: All of the Seattle museums – SAM, Asian Art Museum, Burke, Frye, MOHAI, etc offer free admission on the first Thursday of every month and most of them are open until 9pm.

The Art of Jazz: Free jazz in the lobby of SAM (Seattle Art Museum) on the second Thursday of every month.. Beer and wine for $6-7. Good venue and acoustics. Taste, SAM’s restaurant, has upscale food and a menu of small plates.

Elliott Bay Books: Author readings and events have become a favorite way for us to spend an evening. The readings usually begin at 7pm and there are dozens of trendy bars and restaurants in the neighborhood. Our favorites for a pre-reading nosh are Quinn’s the Scott Staples’ gastropub (sensational steak tartare and an extensive selection of draft beers) or Poquito’s, the big, trendy Mexican place – both on Pike within a block of Elliott Bay. Tonight my friend, Alexander Maksik, is passing through town and reading from his new novel, A Marker to Measure Drift. We’ll be there.

These are just a few suggestions. The Weekend Section of the Times gives a comprehensive view and review of what’s happening for the coming week. I always find things that peak my interest or trigger my curiosity. Sometimes it’s the unknown factor that drives me to the event and adds the element of surprise to date night. Be creative.

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